Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgement is come.
As a general rule, comics translate poorly into novels. By this, I mean stories that have been released in comic form, as opposed to original novels. There’s a lot of visual activity going on in the comics, which is hard to describe in novel form-especially given the amount of dialog that crams into a single panel of a comic book. The Life and Death of Superman, Knightfall, and No Man’s Land all have problems that fall into this category-much of what was put into the comic is lost in translation.
On the other hand, some comics survive the translation in flying colors. Kingdom Come is one such book. Based on a limited series of a few years ago, this book is set in the universe of DC comics…the one where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all call home. More specifically, it takes place at some unspecified time in the future…in the next generation of heroes. However, as the book makes clear quickly, “heroes” might be a misnomer.
The heroes we know are keeping a much lower profile, especially since Superman left Metropolis and vanished. And it seems that new superhuman beings have been popping out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, these heroes are often as bad as the villains. The culmination of this unrestrained conflict is in Kansas, where the icon of this new breed of hero (a fellow with the apocalyptic name of Magog) causes a cataclysm of almost biblical proportions.
Which brings me to the main characters of this story. The Spectre is a servant of…well, I won’t sugar-coat it. It’s heavily implied that he’s a servant of God (I understand some of the comics have him as a manifestation of God’s wrath, eternally seeking Justice). Once he was bonded to a human being, but now he’s become simply his power. He needs a mortal man to guide his steps. Enter Norman McCay, a minister in Metropolis, who has inherited visions from a former super-hero. Together, the two explore the state of affairs with these new superhumans, what happened to the originals, and what happens when the disaster in Kansas strikes.
This was a terrific read. The characters are still recognizable-Superman, psychologically beaten down, but determined to try to do the right thing, even though the path seems unclear to him. Wonder Woman is the personification of the concept “Peace through Strength”, which gets a little out of hand as time goes on. And Batman has become the ultimate schemer, rivaling even the schemes of Lex Luthor, Superman’s longtime enemy (who himself hasn’t exactly been keeping quiet).
There are other characters seen in this book, some of which are more recognizable than others; not all of the DC heroes have become entrenched in the popular consciousness. However, Maggin manages to explain them all extremely well, through the eyes of Norman McCay. McCay himself gets a bit more in-depth background than shown in the original comic series; he was the voice of normal humanity in the comics, and he only becomes more so in this novel.
A few wonderful touches: Norman’s conversation with God (one sided, of course), trying to find enough faith to do the task the Spectre has asked of him. Batman discovering-just for a moment-how Commissioner Gordon must have felt while the Batman was still active. The development of Magog, who I was prepared to dislike heavily throughout the book, and who I actually began to feel some sympathy for (and given the events in this book, that’s a hell of a feat). And my personal favorite, a background piece about the President of the country; when asked what she’d do if elected, her response is “Demand a recount.” (At the time of this review, this response takes on whole new meanings!)
Read Kingdom Come. It’s a great read, even if you gave up comics a long time ago. The characters have grown up just like you have, and are far more interesting than they were ten, fifteen years ago. The story is one of generational conflict, one as old as storytelling, and no less compelling for its age.